St John Birds I

Small islands are tight confines for birds, particularly when the mix of habitats (dry and moist forests, mangrove, salt pond, shoreline) on them is only a portion of the whole. There are just a handful of resident songbird species on St John. [See under: mongoose.] The ubiquitous Bananaquit is one:Its whistle songs enlivening mornings and evenings. Another is the Lesser Antillean Bullfinch. I watched a pair of these “rob” flowers of nectar by going to the base of the long blossoms, which are perfect for hummingbirds, with their short bills. By robbing, I mean they don’t pay the toll of picking up much pollen this way.

The richest bird habitat on the island are the salt ponds, which are often ringed by mangroves. I was halfway around the Francis Bay Trail at Mary Point despairing of seeing anything but Pearly-eyed Thrashers and Zeneida Doves, when I noticed the gallinule above. Which gallinule was the question. A new bird can often be discombobulating. It looked like nothing in my Princeton Field Guide to the Birds of the West Indies. (James Bond, where art thou?) There was a touch of red on the forehead. While I was trying to follow this with my eyes through the reeds, something else swam back and forth furiously, but for only a moment. It was much smaller than the chicken-like thing I was looking at. Two mysteries at once. The smaller bird resolved into a Sora, which I didn’t realize could swim. (As it happens, I saw my first Sora in Prospect Park.) When I got to the observation platform, the mysterious red-forehead began to make sense when I saw an adult Common Gallinule (Gallinula galeata), which used to be called Common Moorhen (G. chloropus).From the observation platform, two more life birds: the White-cheeked Pintail which I had hoped to see, and the Least Grebe, which was unexpected.

Here’s all the birds I saw, with life species in bold: Least Grebe, Brown Booby, Brown Pelican, Magnificent Frigatbird, Great Blue Heron (St. Thomas), Great Egret, Green Heron, Blue-winged Teal, White-cheeked Pintail, Osprey (resident birds have very white heads), American Kestrel, Common Gallinule, American Coot, Spotted Sandpiper, Rock Dove (St. Thomas), Zeneida Dove, Common Ground-Dove, Mangrove Cuckoo, Smooth-billed Ani, Green-throated Carib, Antillean Crested Hummingbird, Gray Kingbird, Pearly-eyed Thrasher, Yellow Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Bananaquit, Black-faced Grassquit, Lesser Antillean Bullfinch, House Sparrow (also seen inside the St. Thomas airport terminal). (This is the checklist I used.) The only “common” resident species that eluded me was the Scaly-naped Pigeon.

5 Responses to “St John Birds I”

  1. 1 Out Walking the Dog January 25, 2012 at 7:51 am

    Looks like a great trip, Matthew. I’m enjoying the posts very much.

  2. 2 Frank January 25, 2012 at 7:32 pm

    Great pictures Matthew and also enjoy your observation notes………Thank you, Frank.

  3. 3 Rob Ripma January 26, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    Great post! I will be heading to St John in March and am hoping to get all of these birds that you mentioned. Any tips for someone that has not been there before?

    • 4 mthew January 26, 2012 at 3:01 pm

      Migration should be starting up, so there should be more birds then. Definitely get to the Frances Bay Trail at Mary’s Point. As a birder, you already know to keep a sharp lookout: things are always happening, with brown pelicans plunging into the bays and hummingbirds flitting about (am posting about them tomorrow), with frigate birds sometimes quite near the coast. A brown booby floated in front of our ferry from Red Hook to Cruz Bay, first on the port, then the starboard bow, then back over again, the whole trip over.

  1. 1 Coot « Backyard and Beyond Trackback on February 16, 2012 at 7:59 am

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